Warren and I had an exciting conversation last week with Casper ter Kuile of Common Cause . It was great to come across another group that is also exploring the practices of expressive change, but through a very different set of lenses- the perspectives of large NGOs, social campaigners, and psychology researchers.
Common Cause was created to counter a disturbing trend in the world of social campaigning- an increasing number of NGOs turning to conventional marketing methods to convince the masses to adopt more environmentally-friendly behaviours.
These campaigns motivate people to turn down their central heating by suggesting they follow the latest fashion trends in winter clothing. They persuade people to reduce flying by suggesting they take the train for their next luxurious pleasure trip. They encourage parents to “spoil their little monsters” at Christmas with the latest trends in eco-friendly toys.
Their argument goes like this:
:: People tend to fall into one of three categories when it comes to what primarily motivates them to adopt behaviours: Settlers are driven by the need for personal security, Prospectors are driven by the need to be recognized by their peers, and Pioneers are driven by an inner calling.
:: Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs theory, people’s current needs have to be satisfied before they can graduate to the next, more developed level of the need pyramid.
:: Given this, the most effective way to shift the behaviours of those in the Prospector category is to appeal to their strongly-held values of social status and financial wealth. And by helping them meet their yet-to-be-satiated need for money, image, status etc., you are enabling them to progress to a higher level of need (i.e. more intrinsically oriented), which will eventually lead them to adopt more environmentally conscious behaviour.
Casper and his colleagues at Common Cause are very concerned that this approach, although effective in changing specific behaviours in the short term, is severely undermining the ability of NGOs to seed meaningful change in the long term. Here’s their counter argument:
:: There is growing evidence that when people are exposed to messages that promote the importance of money, image and status, the likelihood that they will continue to prioritize these values is increased, not decreased. And people who prioritize these ‘self-enhancing’ values tend to show less concern about a range of social and environmental issues.
:: Such campaigns result in a high degree of collateral damage because they reach everyone, not just ‘Prospectors’. For every person who switches to energy-saving light bulbs in response to a campaign that highlights the social status associated with such a purchase, there will be many others who do not respond, but who will still absorb the underlying message that social status is important.
:: Social campaigners don’t need to eliminate all references to extrinsic values- “the need for trade-offs and compromises will remain- but we should make them in light of the bigger picture: an understanding of the values that will be essential to securing lasting change.”
With this in mind, Casper is working on a innovative action-research project that brings together campaigners from across the UK to experiment with ways of more closely aligning their campaigning methods with their campaigning goals. What would a deeply coherent approach to social campaigning look like? Casper and his colleagues are driven to answer this question in as many ways as possible. They are driven not by moral righteousness (which would be easy to assume given their focus on ‘values’), but by a desire to create extremely effective social campaigns that result in behaviour change that is both immediate (given the urgency of climate change) and lasting.
Check out the Common Cause guidebook for more detail.